Sam Bennett finished only third in Privas but it was enough to move him into a nine-point lead over Peter Sagan and become the first rider since Sean Kelly to lead the classification.
Kelly was the last man from Ireland to lead any competition at the Tour after he wore the green jersey into Paris and finished ninth overall in 1989.
"What can I say, it’s great to see Sam in the green jersey and it’s even nicer because he’s from the same town as myself back in Ireland," Kelly, who, like Bennett heralds from Carrick-on-Suir, told Cyclingnews late on Wednesday evening.
"To get the green jersey in his first Tour de France, it’s well overdue and Sam deserves it. He had a bit of a hard time at Bora with them not sending him to the Tour last year and now he’s in his first Tour and in the green jersey."
The only thing missing for Bennett at this point in the race is a maiden stage win. He’s come close several times, but Kelly believes that the rider he helped develop through the ranks must focus on grabbing a win at this point, rather than the tight battle to end Peter Sagan’s almost vice-like grip on the Green jersey.
"He has to get a stage win, and he’s in the right form. He’s one of the fastest men here, alongside Caleb Ewan. But if he takes a stage win that could really set him up for the green jersey outright."
Bennett, of course, came through the ranks at Kelly’s An Post team before moving to NetApp in 2014, which later transformed into Bora-Hansgrohe. Kelly remembers fondly how passionate and talented Bennet was from a very young age, and how he matured as a rider as he moved through the ranks.
"I remember when he was young, maybe 13 or so, before he started racing back in Ireland actually, and we used to be down by the seaside in a caravan park and he used to be racing around there with my son who is the same age, and people would be giving out to them because they’d be zig-zagging and riding in between people. That was before he joined the local club and got into racing," the Eurosport commentator told Cyclingnews.
"When he started back in Ireland he was dominating the races all the time. There was always that potential there but it’s always difficult to know how far riders will go because they can be really good in the juniors but when they move up they don’t perform at the same level. When Sam moved up to the under-23 level, though, he showed that he had a fast sprint. We took him onto the An Post team and he kicked on a lot. He won a stage in the Tour of Britain and that was a bit of a breakthrough for him."
The battle for the green jersey is only just beginning and the gaps are minimal at this point. Sagan is notorious for his consistency and his ability to hunt down points on stages that don’t suit the sprinters. However, Kelly believes that Bennett can close the gap and run the three-time World champion close all the way to Paris.
"He will definitely be up there. He’ll give it a good run and Sagan will definitely have more opposition this year. It’s early days in the race yet, but we know that Bennett is consistent but he’ll be there any day for the sprinters. He has a really good chance for challenging for the green jersey all the way to Paris."
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